The first time I taught Yin yoga was at a local community college. I had NO idea what to expect. I got there a little early and sat in my car thinking of my possible students- Old? Young? Injured? Athlete? Would I even have any students? Over the course of the semester, I re-learned a lesson: everyone can use this practice. In fact, it was somewhat selfish of me to worry about what my students would be like instead of being eager to help them. As I had imagined, I had a wide array of students including a marathon runner, a stay-at-home mom with a bad back whose doctor said she needed stress relief, a lonely college student who had just moved there, a man with multiple pins in his hips, a man with a previously broken neck, and a woman who had just beat breast cancer and was recovering from chemo. I’ll be honest- I panicked. Pins in both hip joints? You tore that ACL when? I quickly remembered something my teacher had told us during our training- “When you teach, you have the actual ability to help someone improve thier own life. If you have that chance, shouldn’t you utilize it to the fullest?” Before I knew it, I was standing in front of our very small, very limited prop closet. We had some broken straps, foam blocks, and some awkwardly-shapen bolsters. But, we made it work. Sans props, there probably would have been many more situations when an alternative pose or a break from the practice was needed.
Using props in Yin yoga is not about being able to go further or deeper into a pose. If you remember, the pillars of Yin yoga are time, edge, and stillness. Notice how pain is not listed there. Yin teaches you to decipher between pain and discomfort, what’s harmful and what’s helpful. If we don’t stress our joints enough, they begin to degenerate. Stress them too much and they can never recover. There’s a fine line between feeling and being with that sensation and feeling too much of it. Thus, props are used to enable us to stay longer in a pose, not to push us further into it. Observing the breath is a great way to tell whether or not the pose is too intense- if you are unable to even out your breathing with a few deep breaths, chances are you’re a little too deep. If you’re breathing and reacting so calmly that you’re drifting off to sleep, it’s possible that you are a bit too comfortable. Sometimes I slide ride into Saddle and other times….well, other times I’m much more comfortable like this (unfortunately, luxurious eye pillow is not included):
And sometimes (okay- every time) my hamstrings are too tight to be somewhat comfortable in Caterpillar so I grab my bolster and do this:
While I’ve never had this issue, I’ve had lots of students with tight hips who find a block under the top knee in Square pose, and a strap around the top foot in a reclining twist can be lovely. Especially in your home practice, don’t be afraid to experiment. Throw pillows make great bolsters, scarves easily double as straps, and you can find a block at any Target. The modifications I’ve listed today are just scratching the surface. Let your chest rest on a bolster in Child’s pose, or use blocks to stabilize you in Dragon. The options are endless and, like me, you’ll quickly find your favorites. Once you do, get comfy!
Photo credit: www.yogajournal.com www.rootedforlife.wordpress.com
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